George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” combined horror, social commentary & satire

By on October 31, 2017

The 1968 horror cult classic, Night of the Living Dead was a midnight movie hit noted for its potent combination of horror, social commentary and satire. Watch it now on Night Flight Plus!

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The movie — directed by the legendary George Romero, who died earlier this year, on July 16, 2017, following a battle with lung cancer — aired frequently in the wee hours of the morning and late nights on the USA Network, and we aired the film on “Night Flight” occasionally, as you can see in this Youtube clip we found, we features Pat Prescott’s introduction to the movie.

Night of the Living Dead was also Romero’s directorial debut, from a screenplay written by Romero and co-writer John Russo (we told you about Russo in this previous Night Flight blog post).

Night of the Living Dead — shot on a shoestring budget in black & white 16mm and 35mm — begins with the story of a brother and sister, Johnny (Russell Streiner) and Barbara (Judith O’Dea) arriving at a remote cemetery in order to visit their mother’s grave.

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Barbara then sees a strange man approaching, and is shocked when the man attacks and kills her brother.

She flees to an old farmhouse nearby that appears to be abandoned, but soon more people begin to show up, seven in all, including Ben (Duane Jones), who takes charge.

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They board up the windows while trying to escape the clutches of flesh-eating zombies (although they were called “ghouls” in the film).

The survivors become terrified by the increasing number of zombies outside and learn from the TV news that this plague of walking dead is a worldwide epidemic, and not just a local occurrence.

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Duane Jones is the black actor who played the wise and calm “Ben,” and remember, when Night of the Living Dead arrived in theaters movie audiences were more than ever before becoming aware of how movies, even horror movies, could reflect racial tensions in society.

It turns out, however, that Jones was the best actor that Romero and Russo could find who would agree to essentially work for free for twenty days in exchange for back-end points on the film.

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Although Night of the Living Dead went on to become an immediate cult classic and a Midnight Movie favorite — and a Night Flight fave too! — not everyone loved the movie right off the bat.

Roger Ebert famously slammed the film’s violence — including death by garden trowel — in an editorial he wrote for Reader’s Digest.

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Vincent Canby, writing about Night of the Living Dead for the New York Times in December of 1968, initially dismissed the film, which he described simply as “made by some people in Pittsburgh,” in a short review that didn’t mince any words:

“Night of the Living Dead is a grainy little movie acted by what appear to be nonprofessional actors, who are besieged in a farm house by some other nonprofessional actors who stagger around, stiff-legged, pretending to be flesh-eating ghouls.

The dialogue and background music sound hollow, as if they had been recorded in an empty swimming pool, and the wobbly camera seems to have a fetishist’s interest in hands, clutched, wrung, scratched, severed, and finally — in the ultimate assumption — eaten like pizza.”

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Be sure to check out our previous post about the film, which features much more about George Romero’s career.

The post features a rarely-seen exclusive 25-minute interview excerpt that Night Flight writer/producer Stuart Samuels conducted for his 2005 documentary film Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream (it was previously available only as a bonus track on the European DVD release of Midnight Movies).

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Night of the Living Dead is now streaming on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.